Portland Trail Blazers 118 – New York Knicks 114 – Game Recap

Another hard fought game and a valiant loss from our beloved Knicks; so why, oh why, am I feeling so sad tonight?

Well, I guess it has something to do with the new starting five/rotation employed by a seemingly bumbling (of lately) coach Fizdale. While I understand that the starting five with the three rookies was having some problems and had to be changed, I really don’t get how sending all three of them to the bench, starting Hezonja and Kanter and not playing Dotson can be seen as any other thing from a case of “I might have lost my damn mind”. Or maybe a diktat from the front office? Either way, I’m starting to get a bit worried about a few things. Did I overestimate Fizdale’s acumen? Did we underestimate the unknown meddling power of Perry/Mills? I don’t know; I’m just happy we lost because this one wasn’t certainly a good game to win for our development plans.

The good:

– Noah Vonleh (14 pts, 14 rebs, 2 ast, -3 +/-) is a different player when he starts – and when defenses leave him a bit of space to operate. Aside from the strong numbers you see between parenthesis, to which he added 3 steals and 1 block for good measure, his presence was felt throughout the game, with a thunderous slam to cap his night with 8:31 to go in the third quarter. Yeah, he missed 4 straight free throws in the closing minutes, but as I said, I’m happy with the loss, so I won’t scold him for those (but boy, did two of them look flat and ugly). If his three point stroke is semi-legit, which I think could be even with that flat arc of his, Vonleh is surely gonna find a home in the NBA for a long time coming (at the moment he’s shooting 32% from three on 1.4 attempts per game, which is not good but at least should keep defenses a bit on their toes if he’s wide open on the perimeter). If you ask me, at this point of the season he’s my MVP for the Knicks, which says a lot about the whole team. Vonleh was the only one of the new three new starters I have no issue with: he works his tail off night in and night out, and certainly deserves to start ahead of Knox.

– Tim Hardaway Jr. (32 pts, 5 rebs, 4 ast, +10 +/-) put in the third straight 30 pts performance, and did so on just 21 shots. I’m no big Timmy fan, but his scoring workload is undeniable, and tonight he added a few things here and there to be a thorn on the Blazers’ side. A key feature of this year is the sheer number of free throws he’s shooting, a career-high 6.6 per game, good for 13th in the whole league. It doesn’t hurt that he’s converting them as his usual mid-80s clip. I’m still not convinced his salary is right, as he won’t win you that many games, but if life gives you lemon, you make a Tim Hardaway 25 ppg season and call it a day – hoping someone knocks on your door to trade for him. Bonus meager tidbit: his 32 points were the most for all players in the NBA tonight.

– Trey Burke (19 pts, 3 rebs, 3 ast, -15 +/-) has bounced back very strongly in the last three games after not playing in 3 of the previous 4. For the last three, he’s marching to the tune of 24.7 ppg on 67.8 TS% in just under 27 minutes per game. I’m really hoping other teams are watching now, as he’s putting on quite the show and I certainly wouldn’t mind adding a couple second rounders to our hoard. I know, I’m saying good things about players I’d like to see traded away, but isn’t that the point of rebuilding? I mean, what good could come from winning three or four games on the heels of a scorching Trey Burke night if it’s not to trade him as soon as you can? Luckily we didn’t win this game neither the Pels’ one, so I can’t complain too much about our overall record, but you know some night we’ll win a meaningless game on a great performance from one of our useless (if we’re speaking about development) veterans. For a night, he also took the crown of “minus King” from THJ, as he posted a game-worst plus/minus of -15.

The bad:

– Mario Hezonja (2 pts, 3 rebs, 1 ast, +1 +/-) is starring in the critically acclaimed “How to lose your spot in the NBA in four years”, a masterful tale of fall from grace, sorrow and melancholy you can catch for another 30-ish nights on a cool off-Broadway venue near Penn Station. Seriously, Mario, this is how you play im your first start of the season after being extensively benched? You care this little about basketball? I remember you telling people that in Barcelona you were the one people should come look for, not Messi. Now, if you talk the talk, you gotta be able to walk the walk. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a guy so keen on looking so defeated and depressed on the court. At least Fiz cut his playing time quickly – only 17 minutes for him tonight – but not before Mario wandered around the court losing continuatively guys on defense and shooting the ball horribly. I thought he’d have a nice career in the League, but now he might be my least favorite Knick of the season.

– Kevin Knox (2 pts, 1 reb, 1 blk, -1 +/-) is looking like he should be Mario’s understudy in the aforementioned theater piece. In nights like these you really don’t understand what our brain trust saw in Knox when they chose to pick him. I want to be crystal clear: I’m not saying in any way that we should give up hope on him. It’s too early even for Knicks standard to think there’s nothing salvageable about him. I’m just saying, for the second game in a row, that I don’t know what to look for in Kevin to be able to acknowledge he has a future in this league. I look at him and my first thought is Joe Alexander. I’m desperately looking for silver linings here, but I don’t see any damaged Bradley Cooper to couple to this Jennifer Lawrence we have here.

Fun-sized bits:

– Frank had a quietly nice game, even dusting off a cool move driving to the rack with 3:33 to play in the third quarter. He played a little less than 29 minutes and was quite good at defending on Lillard and McCollum. He lost them a few times because of bad defensive rotations, but he certainly didn’t make the game easy for them everytime he got the assignment. Games like this act as a stern reminder that our guy is not suited to be a point guard, anyway. The Knicks dished out 22 assists, 3.5 more than their average for the year; Frank only contributed to one. Not that point guard ability is measured only in assists, but really, Frank tries and shies away from point guard responsibilites too often for my liking.

– Speaking of assists: Enes Kanter had a subdued game (posting a team high plus/minus!), scoring just 7 points and getting just 5 board, but tallied 6 assists. It’s like our inexistent offense forces him to become Tom Boerwinkle from time to time. He’s no Wes Unseld or Kevin Love, though. With 5:20 to play in the third stanza he missed an outlet pass to a streaking Knick by a good eight feet. I’m more accurate at hitting my TV with the remote from the other room when the Knicks play.

– I’m afraid of saying anything about Mudiay. Another game with a positive net rating, third game in a row with a TS% north of 60, not looking lost when driving to the rim. I can’t wait for the other shoe to drop, but I’m happy for him if he’s finally starting to get how to play in the NBA. Not that we care about that, seeing as he’s due to be out of here by the start of next season, unless something really horrible has happened in the meantime.

– Iso Zo really put the stress on the Iso part: 9 points on 5 shots, 3 turnovers and nothing else for the game. Welp, this kid sometimes is impalpable outside of points scored.

– I just want to see Mitch play. He’s an anemic defensive rebounder because he’s always in the wrong place, but he’s such a force of nature he’s almost assuredly must watch TV. 6 points, 5 boards (4 offensive ones!), 2 blocks, 2 steals and 1 assist in 18 minutes of play. He’d be easily averaging 10/7/2 as a second-round pick rookie if only one of our guards knew how to throw him two good lobs a game.

– Fiz, what’s the damn point in starting four guys with expiring contracts and a very low chance of being here next year (save for Vonleh, I hope) while totally benching a cost controlled asset like Dotson, who’s not playing that bad for the year? Hornacek, get out of that horn rimmed glasses sporting body!

– And again: I’m ok with losing the game. But why did Trey have to enter the game for Kanter with 1:43 to go and the Knicks set to defend in the next possession? Kanter is a sieve and we all now that, but Burke is a sieve who’s also a full 10 inches shorter than Enes… and guess how we ended up losing this one? On an offensive rebound putback by Evan Turner.

Next one will be tomorrow night in Boston. If there’s a game I’d like to win, it’s that one. Let’s show them ill-willed greens what we’re made of! Or not, but don’t start Mario again, please.

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Just an Italian basketball fan with an insane passion for all things Knicks (and yes, linguine Alfredo is not a real Italian dish).

28 thoughts to “Portland Trail Blazers 118 – New York Knicks 114 – Game Recap”

  1. We talked a bit about Fiz and these bizarre lineups at the start of last night’s game thread. Fiz’s reasoning to the beat writers was relatively sound: since this is a developmental season anyway, he’s just trying lots of different combinations early on to see what works and what doesn’t, and sometime around the 20-25 game mark, he’ll likely figure out a set lineup and rotation. For example, he started Mitch for a while until he felt the kid was getting out of rhythm most nights due to early foul trouble, and now wants to see him come off the bench again but play a lot of minutes. Given how limited this roster is, and how likely it is that a lot of these guys won’t be here next year, I can appreciate him doing these wild experiments just to be sure who’s a keeper and who’s not, who plays well alongside which other players and/or in which role, etc. Doesn’t mean all of the choices have been or will be perfect, but there does seem to be a method to the madness, and even the offense is starting to (very) slowly come to resemble a functional NBA attack.

    I didn’t love this particular starting 5, nor the Dotson DNP, but my hope is that this isn’t about Perry/Mills interfering so much as it is Fizdale playing the long game. It’s pretty clear who and what Dotson is and that he’s a useful rotation player at minimum, maybe a 4th or 5th starter on the right roster. And he’s going to be around for a bit. By playing guys like Hezonja, one of two things can happen: 1)Mario does well enough to maybe become a trade commodity (whether for a 2nd, as a Courtney Lee sweetener or whatever), or 2)He makes it clear that he’s just not going to realize whatever potential Perry saw in him back in the day, and he moves to the end of the bench while the kids play.


  2. @1

    Re: game threads

    You got me! I don’t ever read game threads before writing recaps, as to not get biased in any way. When I make judgment mistakes, let them be all mine! (But I sure as hell devour them threads one second after I post the recap)

  3. It’s still entirely possible that Fiz is at best a more likable Mark Jackson (coach who cleans up the mess and rebuilds the culture but isn’t The One to take you over the top), and at worst that he’s just a slick self-promoter who snowed LeBron and Wade as much as he did front office types around the league. But I still have relative faith in him.

    Couple of other points on individual performances:

    * Right now, any offense from Frank feels like a tiny puddle in a desert for a man dying of thirst. I’m not sure what’s going on with the three-point shot, because he’s been getting good looks from deep and just missing most of them, despite him having good form last year. If he does have an injured shoulder (or shoulders), that’s where it would be showing up most. But I was glad to see him shooting while open several times last night, and the two aggressive moves to the basket in the third quarter had me screaming at the TV for him to do that on the regular. When he attacks, good things happen. And no complaints at all about his defense.

    * Like Farfa, I’m not close to ready to give up on Knox, but he’s definitely playing like the guy we feared we had drafted rather than the one from summer league. Knox and Frank are both going to be great test cases for Fiz’s ability to get guys to play as the best potential version of themselves.

    * I do not hate this version of Tim Hardaway Jr. At all.

  4. If we just nailed Hezonja and Knox to the bench we’d probably start winning some of these close games so we should keep giving them minutes. Dotson, while nothing special at this point, is vastly superior to either of those two.

  5. @4

    I’m all in favor of giving Knox minutes, but I’d also like to give him a coherent game plan. Right now he’s playing like a headless chucking chicken.

  6. Is everyone convinced that this is the best Tim will ever be? Or at age 26 is there another level for him to get to?

    I personally am tempted to view the “player development” strategy as not only aimed at the younger players, but also Tim, i.e. developing him into a go-to starter rather than a complementary 6th man type. And although it’s a small sample size, his improvement on offense has been staggering and looks sustainable. If he can continue to have the mindset that both his offense and defense are critical to the team’s success (and I like the way he took full responsibility for the LeVert debacle) then it will give me pause about ditching him for salary cap purposes. Offensively, he is an elite player right now and would be very hard to replace at that salary number. Trading him might be at best a lateral move given the FA options. For example, if it was to make room for Kemba, is it really worth it given that Kemba might command double the salary number and is older?

  7. The other thing to keep in mind is that KP will surely be offered the max, and he and Mitch will be fixtures in the frontcourt for the next 3 years. Assuming that another max player will be signed regardless of whether we keep TH2 or not, will those two rim protectors mitigate his weaknesses enough to consider keeping him around for the next two years? You might even throw Vonleh and next year’s #1 into the conversation.

  8. And although it’s a small sample size, his improvement on offense has been staggering and looks sustainable.

    Coming into the season I said the same thing about Burke, but he made me look extremely dumb with his putrid start to the season. Glad to see him playing like he did last year again, making me look less dumb!

  9. Instant offense sixth man seems to suit Burke much better than offense-initiating point guard. I still want to see much more of a sample size with Frank as lead ballhandler, but I can’t argue that things have worked better of late with Mudiay running the offense with the starters, Burke driving and shooting off the bench and Frank as the Swiss Army knife defensive stopper (who still needs to be more aggressive when he has the ball in his hand).

  10. @6

    I like Timmy’s demeanor and I have to say that I’d like to see this version of him playing second fiddle to a healthy KP. That said, if there comes a trade that helps us get rid of his slightly overpaid contract I’d do it.
    If this was his usual level, I’d be more comfortable with keeping him around. I need to see more to get convinced that he’s become a full-fledged perimeter scoring menace. If he’s still around in late January and keeps being a .120 WS/48 player with 57% TS and 30% USG, I might be ok with holding onto him unless we really like what we could get for him.

  11. Offensively, he is an elite player right now and would be very hard to replace at that salary number… For example, if it was to make room for Kemba, is it really worth it given that Kemba might command double the salary number and is older?

    If Hardaway is “elite” in this sample, Kemba Walker is downright Jordanesque in the same sample.

  12. I’d be in favor of Knox going for a Dleague stint if he keeps playing like this. I’d rather see him than Hezonja tho.

  13. If Hardaway is “elite” in this sample, Kemba Walker is downright Jordanesque in the same sample.

    Considering that Jordan’s career TS% is .569 (.603 to .614 during his best years), then yes, Kemba has been Jordanesque thus far this season at .606 at a 32% usage. (note the qualifier “offensively.”)

  14. Considering that Jordan’s career TS% is .569 (.603 to .614 during his best years), then yes, Kemba has been Jordanesque thus far this season at .606 at a 32% usage. (note the qualifier “offensively.”)

    In 1988-89 the league average was .537, with the #1 shooting team (LA) shooting .570. Today it’s .555 with the best shooting team .597. Jordan was much more valuable at his TS% than Kemba is. He’s had a great season so far, but there’s no comparison between the two. I’m aware this is was an off-the-cuff comment.

  15. The other thing to keep in mind is that KP will surely be offered the max […]

    Not knowing what type of player Porzingis will be upon his return, that would be totally….Knicksy!

  16. I’d be in favor of Knox going for a Dleague stint if he keeps playing like this.

    If he wasn’t getting minutes I’d absolutely agree but he’s averaging 18.7 a game. If there’s no improvement in his ability to handle what’s happening on an NBA court in a month or so then I’d say send him down and see if he can find himself. But as long as there are minutes available for him I’m not sure that de-leveling the competition would necessarily be doing him a favor. We know he can play okay against lesser competition already, at least in brief spurts.

  17. I think the starting 5 I want to see before KP comes back is this:


    Bench Babies:


    You could switch Robinson and Kanter but I think its probably good overall to just suck it up and start Kanter but have Frank and Vonleh in there to make the defense at least passable. If he’s happier starting then that’s probably better for the team morale overall but play him and Robinson about equal minutes through the game and if he’s really dogging it on D and Robinson is not in foul trouble, give more minutes to Robinson.

    Mario just isn’t doing anything that I think is worth developing but I guess he would be the 11th man there.

  18. Yeah, Knox doesn’t strike me as a player who would benefit much from the G-League. There he will simply be the best athlete on the court and have free reign to shoot as much as he wants, and he’ll probably not learn much because he’ll get by with athleticism. We saw already in the summer league how he could attack the rim a lot better against lesser competition, his issues are stuff that he needs to be able to do against NBA competition. Keep him playing minutes and see how it goes, we’re in for the long term with him anyway.

  19. I still can’t believe he’s gotten paid $9M to play basketball over the last two seasons. Dude is probably taking home about $4.5M of his career earnings. Hell of a life to not play basketball.

  20. Ron Baker might be better than several guys currently in our rotation. (I still can’t believe we gave him a player option for some reason)

  21. Free Ron Baker!

    Not really.

    YES REALLY!!!!

    Alright, I’m in one of crazy moods where I’m going to say something that’s probably idiotic, but in this snapshot of time it make sense to me. In an hour I might change my mind.

    I think Baker is our 3rd or 4th best defender. I may even be underrating how disruptive he is in spurts. If you are willing to put all these one dimensional scorers on the court, why not put a very disruptive energy defender on the court and try to balance it with scoring in other positions.

    For example, we know the Blazers do most of their scoring out of the backcourt.

    So why not throw Baker and Frank out there for awhile to try to shut them down?

    Against that team, you could probably get away with guys like Hardaway at SF and Kanter at C to score (or some other combinations like that) and not be in any worse of a position than trying to defend that backcourt with Mudiay and Hardaway. It’s obvious they are going to kill Mudiay and Hardaway on most nights.

    Baker is NOT a regular rotation player on a good team. He’s still too limited on offense. But on THIS team in certain spots he would be fine and deserves minutes to try to show he can do more.

  22. Baker is more or less an older Frank (which obviously gives him a lot less upside). He’d probably be a usefulish player if he would take more open shots and actually make those open shots. We might as well play him occasionally or send him to the G league if we’re not going to.

  23. I mean Baker had as WS/48 of .059 last year.


    1. Sucks
    2. Would be 7th highest on the Knicks this season

  24. In 1988-89 the league average was .537, with the #1 shooting team (LA) shooting .570. Today it’s .555 with the best shooting team .597. Jordan was much more valuable at his TS% than Kemba is. He’s had a great season so far, but there’s no comparison between the two. I’m aware this is was an off-the-cuff comment.

    It was partly off-the-cuff (as was the post it was in response to!) but it’s not an indefensible proposition.

    Kemba is 4th in TS% among high-usage players, behind only all-time great offensive players (Curry, Durant, LeBron) and at .606 he’s .051 above league average.

    During Jordan’s first 2 championship years (age 28-29) in ’91-’92, it was .579 (lower than Malone, and .048 above league average); in ’92-’93, it was .564 (lower than ‘Nique, .028 above league average).

    So is Kemba today (after 16 games lol!) comparable to Michael Jordan in his time? Of course not!!! But it’s not as far-fetched as you suggest.

  25. Is tonight our second back-to-back or our third? I thought there were supposed to be less of these?

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